Three Cheese Manicotti

Winter doesn’t want to end its grip on us.  We did have one nice day in February when it actually seemed like Spring.

I suppose the winter weather gives us an opportunity to cook up some comfort food.  One of my favorite Italian-American comfort foods is manicotti, and it is also very easy to make.

Manicotti are a cheesy stuffed pasta and usually topped with a tomato sauce.  Spinach is quite often added to the filling.  Some cooks like to make homemade crepes to stuff the filling in.  This recipe uses the dry manicotti shells that are typically boiled before filling.  The filling can vary but I prefer one made of ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan cheeses.  The pasta is then baked in a homemade or jarred tomato sauce.  I used my homemade tomato sauce for pasta and the recipe can be found here.

Manicotti are similar to cannelloni in Italy.  DeLallo, a US company that produces specialty Italian food, has an interesting article on the two pastas here.

Three Cheese Manicotti

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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1 box (14 shells) manicotti
15 ounces ricotta cheese
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

3-4 cups tomato sauce, homemade or your favorite jarred sauce

1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Cook the manicotti shells in boiling water for 5 minutes.  Drain and lay on baking sheet lined with parchment paper to dry and cool.  Cover with paper towels while cooling.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray.  Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce along the bottom of the dish.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese,  parmesan cheese, eggs, basil, salt and pepper until smooth.  Fill each cooked manicotti with the cheese mixture.  (Use either a disposable pastry bag or ziplock bag (quart or gallon size) snipped at the corner to fill the manicotti.)

After filling each manicotti, place it into the sauce-lined baking dish.  Pour the remaining sauce over the shells.  Cover with foil and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling.  Uncover, top with the remaining mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese.  Bake for another 10 minutes.  Let rest 5 minutes before serving.  Serve with additional tomato sauce if desired.  

1.  I divided the manicotti between two baking trays and froze one for later use.
2.  When you boil the manicotti shells, don’t over cook them.  They will be less likely to tear when filling them.


Victoria Sponge Cake

PBS aired four seasons of The Great British Bake Off (GBBO) series some time ago and also licensed it to Netflix.  The series in the USA is known as The Great British Baking Show.  I recently discovered it on Netflix.

After I watched the first episode on Netflix, I was hooked.  I binge- watched all four seasons every opportunity I had.  I really wish all of the seasons of the show were on Netflix.  I love the show, the two judges, and two hosts.

Twelve home bakers are judged by Mary Berry, a lovely lady who has written many cookbooks and Paul Hollywood, a professional baker and cookbook author also.  The two hosts are Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroye who are really funny yet will offer emotional support to the contestants when baking mishaps occur.

There are three challenges the bakers face: Signature Bake, Technical Bake and the Showstopper.  These are not easy baking tasks. The Technical Bake is either a recipe from Mary or Paul.  It also  determines who the star baker is for the week.  Unfortunately, when that is announced the person that must go home is also revealed.

After watching the shows, it made me want to bake.  However, most of the Technical Bakes were too difficult for me to even think about baking.  The only two recipes I considered were Mary Berry’s Frosted Walnut Layer Cake and her Victoria Sandwich.  I baked the Frosted Walnut Layer Cake and it turned out fairly good.

I also baked her Victoria Sandwich (Victoria Sponge Cake) which is the recipe for this post.  Mary’s recipe for Victoria Sandwich is in her cookbook Mary Berry’s Baking Bible.  I purchased the iBook version of her book.  The recipe the contestants had to use for The GBBO can be found on the PBS web site.  It required the contestants to make the cake, raspberry jam from scratch, and a buttercream filling.  The bakers only had 1 1/2 hours to complete the finished cake.

The cake itself is fairly easy to make.  Converting the weight of the ingredients to American measurements took some research.  I have long had a kitchen scale, so after I measured the ingredients, I weighed them.  I made the cake two times.  The first time I used all purpose flour and US butter such as Land O’Lakes.  The second time I used cake flour and Kerrygold butter (an Irish butter).  I believe the cake flour and Kerrygold butter made for a lighter cake.  I also used the creaming method for butter and sugar rather than Mary’s all in one method.  Also, the first time I made the cake I made it with the buttercream filling.  For the recipe in this post, I used whipped cream.

The first published recipe for the Victoria Sandwich was in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management in 1861.  The recipe shows four ingredients: eggs, sugar, butter, and flour all of equal measurements.  Gutenberg has a free digital version of the book available for download in several formats.  Amazon also has a free digital version available for the Kindle.

The Victoria Sponge Cake may have been Queen Victoria’s favorite cake.  Anna, the Duchess of Bedford is credited with introducing it to Queen Victoria.  Make the cake and you may feel the need to have a cup of tea and watch The GBBO on Netflix.

Victoria Sponge Cake

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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For the Sponge

2 cups Cake Flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup + 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
1 cup (8 oz) unsalted softened butter, cut into small cubes (plus extra for greasing)
1-3 tablespoons milk, as needed

For the Filling

1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream, whipped and sweetened to taste
1/2 – 1 cup raspberry jam

raspberries for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Use a little butter to grease two 8 inch cake pans.  Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper.  Lightly grease the parchment paper and then set the pans aside.

Sift the cake flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium size bowl.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl of a stand mixer (or use a hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.  Next beat in the eggs one at a time.  Mix on low speed.  If the butter mixture starts to curdle, add a spoonful or two of flour.  Use a spatula to gently fold in the rest of the flour mixture.  Use a little bit of the milk if needed to loosen the mixture.

The finished mixture should be of a soft “dropping” consistency.  Use a spatula, to divide the batter evenly between the cake pans.  With the spatula, gently smooth the surface of the cakes.

Place the pans on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  The cakes should also spring back when very lightly touched in the center.

Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes in the pans set on a wire rack.  Then turn out the cakes on wire racks to cool completely.  Peel off the parchment paper and discard.

To Assemble

Choose the cake layer with the best top.  Then, put the other cake top-down on to a serving plate.  Spread with the jam.   Spoon the whipped cream into a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle.  Pipe the whipped cream on top of the jam (or spread with a spatula).  Then add the second layer and sprinkle with powdered sugar.   

1.  Season 4 of The GBBO currently on Netflix is actually Season 7 on the BBC.
2.  Mary’s recipe calls for “self-raising” flour.  While we do have “self-rising” flour in the USA, I don’t think it is commonly used for cakes.  It is used a lot in Southern cooking, especially for biscuits.
3.  Kerrygold butter appears to be readily available.  It is at the two supermarkets I shop at and also at my local Walmart.  Your favorite brand of butter can also be used.

Here is a YouTube link where Mary Berry is making her Victoria Sandwich, using the all in one method.


Hot Cheesy Corn Dip

The recipe in this post is a hot and cheesy corn dip that is great for family gatherings, parties, or the upcoming Super Bowl game.

The game is on February 4th this year.  It will be played in another cold weather state, Minnesota.  However, they do have a domed stadium.  Our Detroit Lions won’t be one of the teams since they didn’t make it to the playoffs.  The coach got fired, and the team is looking for another one.  Perhaps next year the Lions will make it.

The original name for this recipe is Baked Santa Fe Dip.  I think the Hot Cheesy Corn Dip title is more descriptive of it since you get an idea of the ingredients.  Recipe is adapted from a Better Homes and Garden recipe and can be found here.

Hot Cheesy Corn Dip

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (8 ounces)
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack or mozzarella cheese (4 ounces)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 (15 oz) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (4 oz) can chopped green chili peppers, drained
2 teaspoons finely chopped canned chipotle chili peppers in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon adobo sauce (from the can of chipotle peppers)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped (optional)
1/4 cup sliced green onion
Tortilla chips for dipping

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 1 1/2-quart baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

Stir together cheeses, mayonnaise, drained corn, chili peppers, chipotle pepper, adobo sauce, and garlic powder in a large mixing bowl.  Mix well and then spread mixture into the prepared baking dish.

Bake the cheese mixture in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes or until heated through and bubbly.  Top with the sliced green onion and, if desired, tomato.

Serve with the tortilla chips.

The snowy weather we had for most of January seemed to bring out the deer looking for food.  Photo courtesy of a family member.


White Christmas Pie

I love vintage cookbooks and probably buy more of them than I should.  I recently found and purchased this vintage Betty Crocker cookbook: Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book published in 1950.

This cookbook was published as prosperity came to the USA.  There were a lot of cookbooks on the market, but this one became the leading cookbook.  The Chicago Sun Times described it as a “cookbook that has everything.”  Betty Crocker is, of course, a fictional person.  She is the iconic image of the General Mills Company, a US based food company.  Betty Crocker products can be found in the USA as well as markets worldwide.

Included in the cookbook is a recipe for White Christmas Pie.  It sounded just perfect for a Christmas dessert.  It is described as a  “pure white heavenly concoction”.  The original recipe uses uncooked beaten egg whites.  I adapted the recipe to use cream cheese and additional heavy whipping cream to replace the egg whites.  With cream cheese, whipping cream and sweetened coconut in the pie, I can state with confidence that it is a “pure white heavenly concoction”.

The pie is very easy to make and made even easier by using a store-bought pie crust.

White Christmas Pie

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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1 pre-baked pie shell
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (such as Knox)
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup boiling water
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups whipping cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond flavoring
1 cup sweetened coconut

In a small bowl sprinkle the envelope of unflavored gelatin over 1/4 cup cold water.  Let stand for one minute.  Add 1/4 cup boiling water, stirring constantly until granules are completely dissolved.  Set aside while preparing the filling.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese until smooth and light.  Add a little bit of the cream, and beat to loosen.  Beat in the remaining cream and sugar, a little at a time, until the mixture almost holds stiff peaks, occasionally scraping the bottom of the bowl.  Beat in the salt, vanilla and almond flavorings. Add the gelatin to the whipped cream mixture.  Continue to beat until stiff.  Fold in the cup of coconut.

Spoon the filling in the prepared pie crust and spread to fill the corners.  Chill for several hours.  If desired, pie can be garnished with additional whipped cream and coconut.  

1.  I used the wire whip attachment on my KitchenAid stand mixer to beat the cream cheese and whipped cream mixture.
2.  I used a Wilton Star 2D tip to pipe whipped cream on the top of the pie and served the pie with a raspberry sauce.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a happy and safe New Year.


Raspberry Almond Shortbread Thumbprints

I like to try a new cookie recipe every year for Christmas.  The new cookie I baked up this year is a Raspberry Almond Shortbread Thumbprint cookie. These thumbprint cookies are rich and buttery.  You can taste the buttery flavor with each bite. Then, there is the raspberry jam adding a hint of a fruity sweetness to the cookie.

These thumbprint cookies do not have any eggs or any kind of leavening agent in them.  I didn’t know until I did some research that shortbread consists of three basic ingredients: flour, butter, and sugar.  Also, shortbread is a traditional Scottish baked good.

The recipe calls for a glaze to be drizzled over the cookies.  The glaze is optional, and I left it out because  of the extra sweetness.  See the original recipe at Land O Lakes that includes the directions for the glaze.

We had our first snowfall today, making for some pretty Christmas scenery, and a good day to be baking Christmas cookies.

Raspberry Almond Shortbread Thumbprints

  • Difficulty: easy
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1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam

Combine butter, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract in a bowl.  Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy.  Add flour, beat at low speed, scraping bowl often, until well mixed.  (Mixture will be crumbly at first but it will come together.)  Cover; refrigerate at least 1 hour or until firm.

Preheat the over to 350 degrees F.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls.  Place 2 inches apart onto ungreaseed cookie sheets.  Make indentation in center of each cookie with thumb (edges may crack slightly).  Fill each indentation with about 1/4  teaspoon jam.

Bake 12-14 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.  Let stand 1 minutes on cookie sheets; remove to cooling rack.  Cool completely.  Makes approximately 36 cookies.  

1.  It only took the cookies I baked 12 minutes to reach a light brown color.  Recommend checking after 12 minutes to prevent over baking.
2.  To prevent the cookies from spreading during baking, refrigerate the prepared cookies before baking (for about 15 minutes).
2.  Store cookies covered at room temperature for 3 days or cookies can be frozen.


French Apple Cake

Last weekend, we drove to Traverse City, Michigan to check out the fall foliage.  Traverse City is a beautiful city to visit at any time but especially so in the fall.  The area has so much natural beauty that it is easy to get the feeling that you really are “up north”.

Traverse City claims that it is the Cherry Capital of the world, and it very well could be true.  The area does produce around 75% of America’s tart cherries.  The cherries were long gone on our visit but local apples were still available.  I found some local Honeycrisp apples from a farm stand on the Old Mission Peninsula Road.

We took a drive along this very scenic route.  It is a beautiful drive no matter what time of the year.  We stopped at a scenic overlook so I could take some pictures. We did see some color, but the colors had not peaked yet.  It was still a beautiful view.  There are several wineries along this road that beckon you to stop and sample local wines.  We saw a lot of grapes still on the vine.

At the end of Old Mission Peninsula Road is the very picturesque Mission Point Lighthouse.  The lighthouse was built in 1870 and is no longer in operation.  However, it is open for tours and provides a great photo opt for visitors.

Downtown Traverse City has a lot of good shopping.  One of my favorite places to shop is the Cherry Republic.  It is the place to go for all things cherry.  They sell everything from cherry jams to your favorite cherry wine.  All of their items are beautifully displayed.  Even if you don’t buy anything, it is a fun place to just look around.

I wanted to make something special with the apples I bought in Traverse City.  My first thought was an apple pie.  But after some research on the web, I found a beautiful French Apple Cake recipe that was perfect for my apples.

It is a recipe from one of my favorite food bloggers, Once Upon a Chef.  She has great recipes and beautiful pictures detailing the preparation of each recipe.  Please visit her web site to read the inspiration behind her French Apple Cake recipe.  The only change I made was to use brandy instead of rum because that is what I had.

This is a moist and buttery cake with a slight crunch and delicate flavor of the sweet apples.  I like how the top of the cake has a crispy taste from the sugar sprinkled on top.

French Apple Cake

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons brandy (original recipe calls for dark rum)
2 baking apples, peeled, cored and cut into small cubes (I used Honeycrisp)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Confectioner’s sugar (optional) for decorating the cake

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Spray a 9-inch springform cake pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.  Set aside.

With a mixer, cream the butter and sugar until until it is light and creamy, about 3 minutes.  Add one egg at a time beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.  Add in the vanilla and brandy and beat till combined.  If the mixture looks grainy that is ok.  Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined.

Use a rubber spatula to fold the chopped apples into the batter mixture.

Spoon the batter into the prepared springform cake pan and smooth the top.  Sprinkle the top evenly with the 1 tablespoon of sugar.  Bake for about 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack.  Let the cake cool until just warm.  Carefully run a knife around the edge to loosen the cake from the pan and then remove the side of the springform cake pan.  With a fine sieve, sprinkle with the Confectioner’s sugar, if using.

Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.  

 A regular 9 inch cake pan can be used for this recipe.


Italian Vegetable Soup

I think we all have our favorite comfort food.  Macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and grilled cheese sandwiches are quite often considered comfort foods.  Also, it could be a favorite cake, pie, or cookie.

Often times when we eat our favorite comfort food, it takes us back to a happier time or perhaps a reminder of a loved one.

The Huffington Post has a list of what they consider to be the top 25 comfort foods.  The number one being the grilled cheese sandwich.  Check out the complete list here to see if your favorite comfort food is listed.

One of my favorites is any kind of vegetable soup with a tomato base.  I can remember eating vegetable soup when I was kid, and it was always made with vegetables and tomatoes from my Mom’s garden.

This recipe is so easy to make and chances are you will have all of the ingredients on hand.  It is a hearty soup and will be welcomed for lunch or dinner.

Serve the soup with a favorite bread or with sweet Honey Muffins as I do. Recipe for the Honey Muffins can be found here.

Italian Vegetable Soup

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 1/2 cup sliced carrots
1/2 cup sliced celery
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 cups water
1 10.5 oz can beef broth
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with juices
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 15.5 oz can kidney beans, drained
1 15 oz can corn, drained
Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch Oven and then add the onion.  Sauté the onions until just barely tender.  Add the carrots and celery and stir to combine, cooking for an additional minute.  Turn off the heat, and add all of the spices and mix to combine with the vegetables.  Add the water, beef broth, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, kidney beans and the corn.  Bring the soup to a boil, and then immediately turn down to a very low simmer.  Continue to simmer the soup uncovered for about 45 minutes or until the carrots are tender.

Serve the soup while hot.  

1.  Recipe makes a lot of soup but is great for leftovers.
2.  Adapted from